The Guardian October 3, 2001


Poverty forces students out of university courses

It's now ten years since the last Bureau of Statistics survey of student 
finances and a shocking 17 years since the last Department of Education 
survey on that subject. Does this indicate that the government doesn't care 
if our students starve?

They should. A new survey by the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee 
(AVCC) has found that 70 percent of students are now being forced to seek 
work in order to survive while doing their courses. This is only the fourth 
such survey ever to have been carried out.

Students are now being forced by economic circumstances to put their 
academic results, and their chances of graduating, at serious risk. It is 
likely that the academic performance of most if not all of the working 
students is adversely affected. 

Most seriously affected are those students (more than one third of the 
total enrollments) who are forced to cut classes in order to work, 
according to the AVCC report. These students work, on average, two days per 
week, in order to support themselves. Given the extraordinary demands 
imposed on students time by modern tertiary education courses, this 
represents an almost insurmountable barrier to graduation for most 
students.

The Austudy rules impose a parental income threshold of $26,000 not 
including rental assistance. At this level many parents would be hard 
pressed to support themselves let alone their sons and daughters while 
studying.) The Howard government has so far dismissed appeals from the 
Democrats and others to link student income to pension increases.

Women are particularly disadvantaged, because the employment structure 
favours men in terms of employee sponsorship. Approximately twice as many 
men as women are supported by employer payments of course fees and HECS 
payments. 

The leader of the Democrats, Natasha Stott-Despoja, last week stated that 
"...the Government's inadequate and restrictive student income support 
measures are a false economy, as the community is not gaining the optimum 
benefits of university education."

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